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Alcohol sales remain divisive in Clermont
Clermont residents gather for Tuesday night's town hall meeting about alcohol sales. - photo by Andrew Akers

Few issues are as divisive to the residents of Clermont as alcohol sales.

The town of about 900 held a town meeting Tuesday night to gauge public opinion on a possible repeal of an ordinance prohibiting the sale of beer and wine.

Both sides of the argument received applause and support from residents who turned out to voice an opinion.

“We’re starting our 200th year (in Clermont), and this would be a real black eye, I would think, to start it off like this,” said Danny Head, a local resident and historian. “These businesses knew there was no beer or wine sold here, and hopefully we can keep it that way.”

The opposition hopes to repeal the ordinance to help support local businesses, which say they are losing business to nearby establishments in Hall County that are allowed to sell beer and wine.

Sam Patel operates the Happy Food Mart on U.S. 129/Cleveland Highway in Clermont. He started working there three months ago and without significant change, he said he expects to go out of business within the next three.

“We just want to survive,” he said. “We aren’t taking payroll right now.

“We don’t want to change the community, but we have the right to survive.”

According to Clermont Mayor James Nix, the 2011 ordinance was first created to prevent “brown-bagging,” or the carrying of open alcohol containers in public, but also included a clause preventing the sale of beer and wine. After receiving some input from local people and organizations, the council decided to hear public opinion on the matter.

“(The businesses) have come before and now they’ve just gotten themselves together to ask the council,” he said. “We just decided it was time to hear what the citizens said and move on with it.”

Prior to the meeting, Councilwoman Kristi Crumpton conducted a survey of similar-sized towns in Georgia that allowed beer and wine sales to see what the potential burden and tax benefit would be. While individual numbers varied, it seemed most towns received more money than they put into the process of licensing local businesses.

However, she maintains most of the council is yet undecided.

“What we’re looking for is to make the best decision for the town.”

Councilman Seth Weaver spoke against the sale of alcohol in Clermont, claiming the town’s status as a bedroom community attracts people.

“We don’t need this in the town of Clermont,” he said. “It sets us aside from other places.

“We’ve got a lot to offer people here, not just beer and wine.”

The next step for the council is to assess the spoken input along with written comment cards and bring the issue to a vote at a council meeting sometime in the next few months, Nix said.